Principles for Children’s Liturgy



The Vatican II Directory for Masses with Children (1973) has provided the guiding principles for The SUNDAY Liturgy of the Word for Children Series since its origin in 1989. One of the Directory authors, Rev. Edward Matthews, also shares in the authorship of the SUNDAY Series, with the late Christianne Brusselmans, Sister Paule Freeburg, S.C., and Christopher Walker. Under the direction of Dr. Brusselmans, they pioneered the implementation of the Directory after its release in 1973. In keeping with the Directory, their work on The SUNDAY Book of Readings (A,B,C) was officially approved by the Canadian Bishops Conference for liturgical use with children. The Directory describes both the positive and potentially negative influences of liturgical ritual-making on the spiritual life of children. (DMC #2, 3) While we outline the guiding principles below, we recommend that leaders read the Directory as part of their formation.  

The Directory fulfills the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy which promotes adapting the liturgy to various cultures and communities. Serving the spiritual needs of children, the Directory recommends inviting children to a separate Liturgy of the Word in a setting not too distant from the parish assembly. (DMC #17, 38)  “By virtue of their baptism,” Father Matthews observes, “children have the right to hear God’s Word in language they can understand.” The separate gatherings with children should be predominately but not exclusively of children. They should include a sampling of teenagers and older parishioners who, in their own prayerful participation, serve as models and mentors or “shepherds.”


The norm is to have children participate with parish assembly in the Gathering Rite. The presiding celebrant then invites the children (generally of school age) and their leader to the front of the assembly. While presenting the Book of Readings to the leader with an appropriate blessing, the celebrant commissions the leader to celebrate the Word with the children. The children process to their separate celebration while the assembly sings an appropriate biblical verse. After the parish assembly and children concurrently conclude their separate celebrations of the Word, the children informally rejoin the assembly at the offertory in time to participate in the parish Celebration of the Eucharist. This model brings liturgy to bear in a positive way on the spiritual needs of the children and nurtures their identity with the body of Christ made tangible in the larger community.   



The Directory distinguishes liturgical prayer from catechetical instruction. We gather to give thanks and praise to a loving God through the art of ritual-making and story-telling (in contrast to pedagogical methods applied to inform one’s faith).


+ Liturgy is public worship, a community’s ritual prayer. Gatherings with children are to be guided by an attitude of prayer and praise that involve the whole person. 


+ The separate gathering place should be prepared for liturgical celebration; seasonal colors, picture to illustrate the Sunday gospel, and candles, all placed to highlight a central display for the book of God’s Word. 


+ Appropriate means, such as through song or quieting one’s self in silent posturing, can help to center the gathering in an attitude of communal prayer. 


+ Liturgical activities include movement (e.g. processions), standing and sitting, gestures, singing, listening, sharing one’s reflections. (Classroom activities such as coloring, cutting and pasting pictures, and other graphic arts are out of place in liturgical gatherings.) (DMC #33)


+ The Celebration of the Word with children focuses on the Scriptures but is not Bible study. It is prayerful listening to God speak to us through the Scripture readings and verbally reflecting, as in a conversation, on God’s presence taking flesh in our lives. (The leader facilitates this conversation, centering attention on God’s Word and the children’s response, not on the leader or homilist.) 


+ An adult approved by the parish priest and sensitive to the capacity of the children may serve as a homilist. (DMC #17, 24) 


+ The selection, number and length of the readings are determined by what serves the spiritual advantage of the children in the gathering. (DMC #42, 43) 


+ As part of reflecting on the Word, it is appropriate to observe silence and to re-read portions of the biblical texts to aid the children’s reflection on God’s Word. Such periods of silence surrounding the readings heighten the children’s sense of God’s presence in the proclamation of the Word. 


+ If the local parish leaders have reason to believe a reading of a particular Sunday is unsuitable, they may use other readings from the Lectionary or the Bible as long as the selection is in keeping with the Liturgical season. (DMC #43) 


+ The use of a Lectionary prepared for celebrations with children is highly recommended.  (DMC #43, 44, 45)  


+ Psalms and biblical chants in keeping with the liturgical season should be sung between readings as well as an acclamation before the Gospel. (CMC #46) 


+ The Liturgy of the Word should include the Prayer of the Faithful drawn appropriately from the children. A simple Profession of Faith may also be prayed. Its focus may reflect the content of the Sunday readings.

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